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I want to start off by saying although hilarious, the show The League is complete bullshit.  No one does a fantasy football league with 6 members, and if people did, what would be the point?  Everyone’s team would be stacked.  You could set your draft on auto-pilot and potentially win the league.  I understand poetic license, and having the standard 10 or 12 league members probably wouldn’t bode well for a sitcom, but c’mon man.  Is there any authenticity in television programming anymore?

Although I won’t release my fantasy football primer until next week, I figured I could help those who are drafting early (seriously, are you not concerned about players getting injured in the pre-season?) with their draft strategy.  While winning your fantasy football league comes down to players staying healthy, key waiver-wire pickups, favorable week 14-16 matchups, and a little bit of luck, there is a decent amount of skill involved.  It all starts with draft preparation.

PRE-RANK YOUR PLAYERS

I can’t stress how important it is to pre-rank your players, whether you’re drafting online or in person.  While many sites have default rankings which you can use to get you started, there are several key pieces of information to keep in mind so you can tweak your player rankings: league scoring & settings, injuries, & player holdouts.

League Scoring & Settings

Not all leagues are created equal.  There are PPR leagues, which award .5 to 1 point for receptions.  Some leagues award 6 points for passing TDs, some award only 4.  Some leagues award players for punts/kicks returned for touchdowns while others give those points to the DST.  Then there are leagues that give bonuses for going over 100 receiving or rushing yards, going over 300 passing yards, scoring 40+ yard touchdowns, etc.  Some leagues start 3 WR, some only start 2.  You catch my drift.  Look over your league’s scoring & settings and give players a bump in your pre-draft rankings accordingly.

Injuries

There are players coming off injuries from the previous season.  Players get injured in pre-season games.  Then there are players (cough, Michael Vick, cough) that can’t seem to stay healthy.  You don’t want to be that guy (or girl, we don’t discriminate here at TSB) who picks Jason Witten in the 4th round with no clue about the condition of his spleen.  Do your homework.  Adrian Peterson is a big name, but he’s coming off a torn ACL.  Look at the injury reports and highlight those players on your draft sheet.  Proceed with caution.

Holdouts

I hate holdouts more than injuries.  As a Jets fan, I can’t stand what Darrelle Revis has been doing the last few years.  I understand NFL money isn’t guaranteed like some other sports, but you signed a contract.  Honor it, play it out, and then get PAID once you hit free-agency.  While Revis plays defense and isn’t much of a fantasy factor, there have been several offensive holdouts whose production on the field has suffered as a result of their holdout.  Vincent Jackson missed almost an entire season.  Chris Johnson was a shell of himself last year.  Keep your expectations low for players who are holding out, and draft them at your own risk (see Mike Wallace, Maurice Jones-Drew).  Conversely, check out who the holdout’s backup is and snag them as a late round sleeper.  If MJD doesn’t report to camp, Rashad Jennings could produce RB1 numbers this year.

THE 10 DRAFT COMMANDMENTS

Obey these draft commandments and do not deviate from them in any way, shape or form.  While some of these commandments may change over time, many of them carry over from year to year.

1. Thou shall not draft a kicker until the final round of the draft.

2. Thou shall not draft a defense until the 2nd to last round of the draft.

3. If thou do not draft a 1st or 2nd tier tight end, thou shall not draft a tight end until the 3rd to last round of the draft.

4. Thou shall not draft a backup kicker, defense or tight end.

5.  Fill thy starting QB, RB, and WR roster spots before drafting backup players.

6. Do not jump on the “runs” that occur during drafts.  Just because the last 4 people drafted a tight end does not mean you have to.

7. Fill thy queue with players thou want.  The worst thing that can happen in a draft is auto-picking a kicker in the 9th round because thou ran out of time.

8. Do not reach for players.

9. Draft based on need, not for trade-bait.

10. Stick to thy drafting strategy.

DRAFTING STRATEGIES

Drafting strategies change based on your league size and rules.  If you’re in a keeper league, certain players who would otherwise be left on the waiver wire are worth taking a late-round flyer on.

General Strategies

2012 is a unique year, as the plethora of decent WRs and decent starting QBs changes the draft mantras of years prior.  Regardless of your league settings, the top 2 draft picks this year should be Arian Foster and Ray Rice.  Along with LeSean McCoy, these 2 are the only sure-fire top-tier running backs going into the season.  If McCoy isn’t picked 3rd, it’s Aaron Rodgers followed by McCoy.  So if you’re lucky enough to grab one of the top 4 spots, your mind should already be made up for you.  It’s the 5-10 or 5-12 (depending on league size) where you have some thinking to do.  Calvin Johnson is a popular choice here, and why not?  He’s a one man tier as far was WR go.  But if you fear the Madden curse, I’d safely recommend taking Drew Brees or Tom Brady.  They’re both in for huge years, and may even outscore Rodgers by the end of the season.

The NFL has become a passing league, there’s no secret in that.  The days of running backs grinding out 30-40 carries a game is over, it’s all about the platoon now.  Other than Baltimore, Houston, and Philly,  just about every team has a running back by committee approach, or has an RB with a lot of question marks with a goal line carry vulture of a teammate.  The solution to this would be to draft WR highly instead of RB, right? Wrong.  WR is so very deep this year.  With teams airing it out, there are tons of quality WR available the further you get in the draft.  While I think it’s important to get at least one stud WR, don’t get caught grasping at straws when all the decent RB are gone and viable starters like Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are still on the draft board.  At no point should you have 2 WR before you have 1 or 2 RB.

10 TEAM LEAGUE STRATEGY: PLAY QB CHICKEN

3 quarterbacks are going in the 1st round this year (Rodgers, Brees, Brady).  That’s a fact.  Then there are 5 QBs going in rounds 2-5 (Stafford, Newton, Vick, Romo, Eli Manning).  That leaves 2 teams without starting QBs, but 3 viable starters available (Rivers, Ryan, Peyton Manning).  My fool-proof fantasy football drafting strategy this year: play QB chicken.

If you don’t get Brees, Brady, or Rodgers, be the last person to draft a QB in 10 team leagues.  Rivers, Ryan and Peyton Manning all have the capability to put up big numbers this year.  While they more than likely won’t reach the big 3 territory, they’ll be neck and neck with the other 5 QBs drafted before them.  Fill out your starting lineup.  Use that 3rd round pick on Jimmy Graham or Gronkowski.  It’ll all pay off in the end when you’re given the luxury to decide between 2 of those 3 players.  If the 2nd to last manager is as savvy as you, he’ll wait until at least the 7th round to draft a QB.  Pick the one you want out of the 2 remaining in the 8th round, before someone gets cheeky and decides they want a stud for a backup.

12 TEAM LEAGUE STRATEGY: YOU NEED EITHER A STUD QB OR STUD TE

If you get stuck with Matt Schaub as your QB and Fred Davis as your TE, you can kiss your league fee goodbye.  I’d be willing to wager the majority of teams with this combination won’t even make the playoffs.  In 12 team leagues, it is imperative to have players that can carry you to the promised land, and the top players in these positions can get you there.

I’ve already told you who you should draft in spots 1-7 (Foster, Rice, Rodgers, McCoy, Brady, Brees, Megatron, for those who aren’t paying attention).  But if you’re in that 8-12 range, you have some work to do.   McFadden has durability issues.  If you draft him, handcuff with his backup.  Chris Johnson is due for a bounce-back season (I hope), he’d be my 8th overall pick instead of McFadden.  The players you pick are up to you.  You have your pre-rankings,  just don’t get caught with your head in the clouds.

If somehow the Gronk and/or Jimmy Graham make it to the 3rd round, pull the trigger.  I see them going in the 2nd round in most leagues, and personally I’m hesitant to spend such a high pick on a TE.  Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton are second round picks this year.  Then there’s the other 3 guys I listed (Romo, Eli, Vick) worth grabbing in rounds 4-5.  Rivers, Ryan and Peyton should be gone by the end of round 6 in 12 team leagues.  If for some reason you don’t have one of these guys, you HAVE to draft Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, or Jermichael Finley by the end of round 6.  The only way to offset a sub-par QB is with a high-end TE.  Your fantasy football playoff life depends on it.

KEEPER LEAGUE STRATEGY

All keeper leagues are different.  Some let you keep any player.  Some let you keep players drafted in the 3rd round or later.  I’ve heard of leagues that allow up to 3 keepers.  Regardless of your rules, there’s one constant- spend your late draft picks on potential.  Whether it’s a highly touted rookie or a 2nd to 3rd year player in line to take over an aging star’s role, there’ s gold in the late draft rounds if you know where to look.

Any running back with a history of injuries or a birth date in the early 80’s does not have much time left as the starter (or on an NFL roster, for that matter).  When an NFL running back hits 30, you might as well start sending them AARP magazines.  Think about the players who have been in the league for a while, and draft their backups late.  You’ll be all smiles when that starter goes down and you’re left with a late round keeper for 2013.
Be sure to check back next week for my fantasy football primer. I’ll give you my player rankings, sleepers, studs and busts.  Follow me on twitter @HookTSB, and tweet me any questions you may have.